|A wordle created from my homily this weekend at our university's liturgical service. Below is the homily|
When you watch a person die, it changes you. To see the body cease to breathe, to watch it become completely silent, to comprehend that this person is gone and irretrievable … it leaves you speechless. One can only imagine, then, the horror of watching a death come violently, accompanied by torn and bloody flesh, pleading eyes, anguished cries of pain, an aura of evil blanketing the scene.
Flesh was not made to be bruised and torn, human heart not meant to be broken, eyes not intended to grow dull along with the a final gurgling breath. Seeing a human being suffer anguish begets anguish. Trauma gives birth to trauma in the souls of those who witness violence. Fear, --choking, suffocating, scalding fear— fear becomes the unrelenting taskmaster of those who witness a violent death, and confusion serves as Fear’s sidekick.
And so it is for the eleven remaining disciples of our Lord. They are – as we look in on them now – completely traumatized, confused, lost. In the space of a few hours last Thursday, their peaceful evening among the olive trees became a nightmare heralded by an angry mob. Their Lord was tried and condemned, beaten and lacerated, mocked and humiliated in full view of many eyes. He was made to drag His own cross up the hill to His execution spot. He was nailed up amid the jeers, jeers of people that He and His disciples knew. Jeers of people whose condemnation of their beloved Lord had crushed the disciples’ deepest, most heartfelt hopes, ripped their shining expectations to shreds.
At the end of it all there was that and one last ragged breath, that horrible final cry, and then … the silence, … the utter finality of death. He was gone.
Now it is a couple of days later. Who can blame these heartbroken disciples for holing up in a room behind a locked door? Who can blame them for believing that they might be living on borrowed time, that the Gethsemane mob would show up for its next victims? Who can blame them for sitting silently, hour after hour, tears sometimes unstoppable, perhaps sobbing as memories washed over them? Who can blame them for picking through the threads of their shared history, talking and questioning, trying to discern some pattern, some meaning, some shred of an answer. “Why?” And “What?” And “How?” And, because a couple of them had reported that his body had gone missing, that someone had said He had risen, there was the question of, “Where?”
There is disappointment. There is anguish. There is fear. There is confusion. There is turmoil in the pit of the stomach. And there is loss. Such deep, deep, wrenching loss.
And then… “Peace… be with you.”
They look up in disbelief. The door never opened. But there He is, marked by the unmistakable signs of His recent torture. And then… Pandemonium erupts. First astonishment and disbelief. Then joy-filled, yelling, laughing, jumping, shouting … a pandemonium of exultation. John later describes it as if Jesus responds rather demurely. John reports simply that Jesus says it again, but He just HAS to have had the biggest, happiest grin on His face when He says it:
“Peace … be with you.”
This is no flat, two-dimensional word. Peace. Peace is shalom: as rounded as the word sounds. Hearty. Whole. Peace be with you. The root verb in Hebrew from which Shalom comes, means completeness. Perfection. Fullness.
Peace … be with you.
It signifies tranquility, safety, harmony, prosperity, health. There is no room in Shalom for agitation or anxiety or discord. There is no loneliness in Shalom. It is Peace right down in the core of your being.
When I picture that kind of Peace, it’s like standing in a place overlooking water, feeling the evening breeze on my face and watching the setting sun paint sweet light on the mountains. When I picture that kind of Shalom, it’s like sharing a wholesome meal with people I love, laughter drifting through the conversation, eyes twinkling, the storytelling drawing us toward one another, weaving our bonds of belonging stronger. When I picture that kind of Peace, it’s like finishing a long, long walk and finally sitting down as the tide of endorphins rises, taking a well-earned rest and relishing the knowledge that I have finished what I set out to do. Well-being. Shalom. Peace.
Peace … be with you.
After He says it the first time, Jesus shows them the marks of violence on His body. And they rejoice. It is Jesus! He is alive! Even though they don’t even begin to understand the why and how, there is an overwhelming flood of relief. If He is there with them, everything will somehow be okay.
And so, John writes later in his gospel, Jesus says it a second time, after the rejoicing: “Peace be with you.” This is something I do not want you to forget, my children. You can surrender your fear. Give up to me your turmoil and confusion. In the middle of the confusion, in the middle of events which have no answers, in the middle of all you have yet to do and to suffer for My sake, when you have no idea what is next or how to survive or how you can get through this in one piece, do not forget… Peace … be with you. As I send you out in the same way my Father sent me, Peace… be with you. As I breathe on you and the Holy Spirit falls on you, Peace… be with you. As you forgive others, Peace… be with you. As you call people to account for their sins, I do not want you to forget: Peace… be with you.
Eight days later they are together again, and Thomas is with them. He’s the critical thinker, the one who operates on evidence and data, the one who needs tangible comfort. He, too, is traumatized, horrified, besieged by his vivid memories of the crucifixion. Thomas is struggling. He is suffering.
And then Jesus once again shows up unannounced, greeting them with those words, “Peace be with you.” Peace be with you when you wrestle with a lack of evidence for things I call you to believe in. Peace be with you when you can’t rid yourself of those images of senseless violence. Peace be with you when people around you seem to accept faith so easily, and you cannot. I long for you to have Peace, Shalom, completion, perfection, fullness. Peace be with you.
As we continue to follow the writers of the new testament, we see that they often bestow peace upon the recipients of their letters. Paul writes it. Peter writes it. John writes it. Jude writes it. “Peace to you.” “Grace and peace to you.” “Grace, mercy and peace to you.” “Mercy and peace and love to you.”
Always … peace.
Take a few moments each day for this: Stop, take a deep breath … and soak in the good news that Jesus is with you. Know His peace. He is with you despite closed doors. He is with you despite traumatic memories, perplexing problems, threatening circumstances, deep loneliness or great losses. Know that He has blessed you with Shalom: completion, perfection, fullness. Let it settle down into you. Know that there is relief, and that although it may not make sense right now, with His blessing, His sending and His Spirit breathed on you, you can be at peace.
Peace … be with you.